Three members of bratty Estonian art group PinkPunk, two of whom also comprise the group Avangard, visited Auckland for AK05. They are brash, young subversives whose politics are a byproduct of living in post-Soviet Estonia but Auckland-based artist Marcus Williams says much of what they do explores universal ideas.
"They are commenting on the rush of capitalism into these ex-Soviet countries but also, generally, I think their politics and their art is relevant across the world," says Williams. "Comments in performances like I Could Be Your Mother against suppressing maternal instincts; those are issues that are true everywhere."
Williams, who brought the group to New Zealand, met them last August while undertaking a residency and participating alongside 22 other international performance, installation and sound artists in the annual Postsvokhoz festival in the southeast Estonian village, Mooste. A small town of just 400 people, for 10 days of the year, Mooste's population contains more than 5 per cent radical artists.
"I was immediately attracted to the political dimension plus the really savvy use of popular culture aesthetics in terms of glamour - they described themselves as a pro-glam group," Williams says.
Avangard is the duo of Sandra Jgeva and Margus Tamm, who are both members of the larger collective PinkPunk.
Although both groups deal with social comment, Jgeva says Avangard can be more aggressive.
"PinkPunk, in some ways, may be softer and uses more tactical softness," says Tamm. "Especially in the beginning, it was very much about using this soft and girly image."
When necessary, PinkPunk recruit additional members and enlist professional assistance. For I Could Be Your Mother, highly groomed performers squirt milk at bystanders from the breasts of costumes created by top Estonian fashion designer Jaanus Orgussaar.
Local artists Bek Coogan and Nora Aati joined in while Williams took photographs for their AK05 exhibition.
Coogan and Aati also participated in the begging performance Fair Deal, which has previously taken place in Tallinn, Helsinki, Chicago, Berlin, and now Auckland's Viaduct Harbour and Wellington's Cuba St. Dressed in glamorous outfits and makeup, the girls hold placards stating, "Give us money, we are pretty".
A sharp commentary on the values that permeate consumer society, Fair Deal also acknowledges the bleak employment options for many struggling artists (especially the growing numbers of art school graduates) whose cultural contributions to capitalist society are often without financial remuneration.
PinkPunk enjoy shifting between pop culture and what they consider the elitist world of art. Taking their art out of the gallery and into public places also gives them access to a wider audience and an element of surprise.
"Sometimes I feel like I made their day or brought something new into their quite routine, everyday life," says Jgeva. "People don't expect to be targeted by artists in the streets."
An ongoing PinkPunk project is the Hot Art Chatline, a free phoneline for people to call and ask questions about art. For the two weeks this ran in New Zealand, it was manned by local artists Bek Coogan, Yuk-King Tan and Sriwhana Spong.
Tan recalls one caller requesting recommendations for naming a new band. Spong says she was surprised at the variety of things people wanted to talk about, ranging from not knowing what art-deco was to tips on drawing owls by moonlight. She enjoyed getting into lengthy conversations about art with people. That is, until becoming inundated with abusive calls from young boys who clearly took the chatline's risque promotion literally.
Another work in the exhibition, as well as highlighting their interest in pop culture, also distinguishes their work from that of their predecessors. Comparing the world of rock stardom to being an art star, the group drive through a small town in the back of a stretch limousine, drinking champagne and misbehaving.
Jgeva explains: "This piece took place at a performance art festival in a small town in Estonia and it was quite an experimental festival because all the performances took place at the same time during 30 minutes.
"It was making a contrast between old-school performance art and their rough aesthetics. It was fun to drive in a limo while the others were running around naked."
*What: Avant-garde or Death, by Avangard and PinkPunk
*Where and when: Gus Fisher Gallery, 74 Shortland St, to Apr 9